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Americans Split on Whether NAFTA Is Good or Bad for U.S.

Americans Split on Whether NAFTA Is Good or Bad for U.S.

by Art Swift
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 48% believe NAFTA has been good for U.S.; 46% say it's been bad
  • Democrats far outnumber Republicans in saying NAFTA has been good
  • Young adults overwhelmingly support NAFTA

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While President Donald Trump has called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the "worst trade deal in history," Americans are split on whether the deal has been good or bad for the U.S. Forty-eight percent say it has been good for the country, while 46% say it is has been bad.

Americans' Views of NAFTA

NAFTA has been contentious since its inception in 1994. When Gallup first asked about its effects in 1997, 37% said it was good, 47% said it was bad and 16% had no opinion. The good and the bad figures essentially reversed in the next reading in 2000 and then flipped back again in 2004 -- the last measurement until this year.

The previous times Gallup has asked this question, more than one in 10 Americans has had "no opinion" about NAFTA. Americans may not have firsthand knowledge of how NAFTA has been performing and therefore might rely on news coverage or statements from political leaders to inform their opinions.

NAFTA's future is now uncertain, given Trump's intent to renegotiate its terms with Mexico and Canada.

Republican Support for NAFTA Plummets

Perhaps because of Trump's criticisms of NAFTA, fewer Republicans now than in the past say the agreement has been good for the U.S. Twenty-two percent of Republicans now hold this view, down from 40% in 2004 and 46% in 2000. In contrast, 67% of Democrats now say NAFTA has been good for the country, up from 39% in 2004 and 49% in 2000. While there was essentially no gap in Republicans' and Democrats' views of NAFTA from 1997 to 2004, a large partisan divide now exists.

Americans' Views on NAFTA by Political Party

The trajectory of independents' views has been similar to Democrats, with their support increasing from 37% in 2004 to 53% now. Republicans are the only party group in which support for NAFTA does not reach a majority level.

NAFTA Support Strong Among Young Adults

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also criticized NAFTA on the campaign trail, but it may not have had much of an effect on his younger supporters. Of those aged 18 to 29, 73% say NAFTA has been good for the U.S., the highest of any age group. In contrast, less than half of those in all other age groups support NAFTA.

Young Adults Are Most Supportive of NAFTA
% by age range
NAFTA good for U.S.
18 to 29 73
30 to 49 48
50 to 64 34
65+ 38
Gallup, Feb. 1-5, 2017

The same Gallup poll measures Americans' broader views on whether foreign trade is an opportunity for economic growth or a threat to the economy. Naturally, those who are pro-trade are more sympathetic to NAFTA than are those who see foreign trade as a threat.

More specifically, among those who believe foreign trade is an opportunity for growth, 57% believe NAFTA is good, while 37% consider it bad. Among those who think foreign trade is a threat to the economy, 23% consider NAFTA good, and 72% say it is bad.

While perceptions of NAFTA are strongly linked to how Americans view Mexico, they are unrelated to how Americans view Canada. Regardless of how Americans see NAFTA, about nine in 10 have a favorable view of Canada. But favorable ratings of Mexico are significantly lower among those who say NAFTA is bad for the U.S. (50%) than among those who say it is good (81%).

Opposition to NAFTA Linked to Less Positive Views of Mexico
NAFTA good for U.S. NAFTA bad for U.S.
% %
Favorable toward Mexico 81 50
Favorable toward Canada 93 91
Gallup, Feb. 1-5, 2017

Bottom Line

NAFTA is a complex trade agreement that many Americans may not understand. Economists still disagree on whether it has been effective.

Trump has promised to forge bilateral trade agreements with nations across the globe, but it remains to be seen whether the president will establish separate agreements with both Canada and Mexico. At this point, Americans are divided along predictable partisan lines over NAFTA, though the partisan divide is a recent development. If NAFTA survives -- albeit with Trump's stamp on it -- it is likely that Republican support for the pact will increase. It will be more interesting to see whether Democratic and independent support for NAFTA will decline.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,035 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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